She was torn between a married man and the lover who haunted her dreams…

When Linda Vaughan is assigned to work in England with her boss, Harvey Seymour, she is, at first, deliriously happy. She is in love with him and for a while has him all to herself.

But when she rents an ancient cottage in Somerset, the deep influence of the cottage’s past impinges on the present.

Then she is promised happiness by the stranger she meets on a journey and from then on Linda struggles between her yearnings for Harvey and the will-o’-the-wisp lover who haunts her dreams.

Written by Derry Moffatt. First NEL paperback edition, July 1974. Cover photograph by Lagarde.

Linda Vaughan has red-gold hair and wears squirrel-fur coats. She lives in Vancouver and works as a PA to Public Accountant Harvey J. Seymour – a man she has been hopelessly in love with for nearly two years. Harvey loves her too and when they are sent away on a business trip to England, they both welcome the chance to continue their illicit affair far from the prying eyes of Harvey’s wife.

However, the hotel they are staying in lacks character and, with so many other work colleagues wandering its corridors at night, it is proving not to be the haven of guilt ‘n’ gossip-free sex they were hoping for. So Linda decides to rent Magpie Cottage, a secluded place full of Olde Worlde charm, located far enough away from work for our amorous couple to enjoy themselves without raising further suspicion.

Soon as the lease is signed, Linda and Harvey move in, settling down to a life of quasi-domestic bliss. And that’s when Linda starts having some very vivid dreams…

The tunnel was long and misty. Linda faltered, fearful and uncertain, then the haze cleared, torn aside like a veil. She was standing in a garden. It was high summer and fluffy white clouds sailed across an azure sky. Fragrant blooms spread a patchwork of colour in the flower beds. Beyond the garden walls soft hills were clad in green and gold … buttercups formed an undulating yellow carpet…

Amongst the shrubberies, his back towards her was a young man. She followed at a distance feeling curiously elated. Slowly the young man walked down a flight of worn steps and along a flag-stoned path between the evergreens to a sunken garden. As if suddenly aware of a presence he stood still, then turned. His wide sea-blue eyes made their way into Linda’s with a long unflinching look. With a start, Linda realised that he alone was aware of her… could actually see her.

For a full minute they gazed in silence at each other. Linda felt her heart hammering against her ribs. Something in the strength and beauty of his features stirred her soul. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. His vibrating whisper of exultation caught and spun her heart. “My love… at last my love, you have come.”

Hmmm. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this reads like the perfect gothic romantic threesome – the man, the woman, and her otherworldly lover – but a few pages in and it was clear there was a bit more to this particular mix – not least Harvey’s long suffering wife, Susan, and their two young children.

Now I’m sure I’ve read lots of books full of people embroiled in extra-marital affairs, without thinking anything of it, but here, in the context of what I took to be a fairly straightforward romance, it was a little jarring. And it didn’t help that a large chunk of this novel chronicled Susan’s side of the story in all its soul crushing glory – the pain she endured finding out about the affair, the helplessness of being thousands of miles away from her husband, knowing she couldn’t do anything about it and the struggle she had keeping up a brave face for the sake of her children (one of which was seriously ill and dying in hospital no less).

This made it made it very difficult to empathise with our leading lady Linda, or to care very much about what happened to her and her ghostly lover. True, the ending to her story was suitably romantic and she did get to fall in love with the man of her dreams (literally). But any enjoyment the reader might have derived from this otherworldly romance was completely eclipsed by the wretched reality of Linda’s affair with Harvey and the devastating affect it had on his family

I first read Will-O’-the-Wisp a good few years ago and, even after re-reading it for this blog, I can honestly say I’ve not read a romance – gothic or otherwise – quite like it. And it makes me wonder, just how successful was the New English Library romance series if this was their idea of an example of the genre?

Judging from the signature in my copy, Derina Ridley is a pseudonym for Derry Moffatt. I can’t find out much else about her, except that she also wrote a few Disney movie tie-in books for New English Library in the 1970’s. The Bear Alley Blog states she was married to James Moffatt, the prolific pulp novelist best known for his Richard Allen ‘Skinhead’ books. 

Whether this is the case or not I cannot say but whoever Derry is, he/she has created a gloriously twisted take on the romance genre with Will-O’-the-Wisp. Though if lighthearted escapism is your thing, you’d probably best stick with Wuthering Heights. Four out of five stars.